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My life lesson: learning to accept things as they are instead of trying to change what I can’t.
I had a very dear friend, an older woman, June, one of my creative writing Professors at Northeastern University who since died. She taught me one of my greatest life lessons, a necessary fact of life, and I’m grateful for the painful, albeit it the necessary insightful bit of knowledge. When I was threatening to leave my husband and filed for divorce, thinking that I’d have the moral and emotional support and a shoulder to cry on with my friends, I didn’t. When I needed them the most, they weren’t there for me. Professor June, as I used to call her, was my confident.
By their lack of concern, understanding, and insensitivity, I struggled with the way my friends, at least those who I thought were my friends, treated me. Their blatant disregard and uncaring hurt me, made me feel rejected, and saddened me. As if I no longer existed, they virtually ignored me.
I would have gotten more attention from them had I died instead of just gotten divorced. At least they would have attended my wake, gone to the church, and said their good-byes at my funeral. Instead, after my divorce, with me thinking I’d be married until death do us part, the worst time of my life, as if rats deserting a sinking ship, one by one, they all disappeared. Some friends they were. As long as I was putting out booze and food, they were happy to come to my house and pretend they cared.
Immediately, the calls and the texting stopped. When I e-mailed them, my e-mails went unanswered. The only time I saw any of them is when I accidentally bumped into them at the mall. In one fell swoop, I lost my husband and all my friends. Not fair. I was alone. I was sad. I didn’t understand. None of it made any sense.
“Susan, it is what it is,” said June raising her eyebrows, rolling her eyes, and giving an unsurprised shrug as if she had been through this many times before.
It is what it is? Where have I heard that before? It sounded like a copout to me. It was something a guy would say when caught cheating on his wife or girlfriend, or what a burglar would say when caught stealing.
“It is what it is,” I said. “Perhaps that’s a modern day adage of Murphy’s Law,” I said with a sad, little laugh. “After anything that can go wrong, does go wrong, am I to say, it is what it is?”
She looked at me and laughed.
“Trust me, it works,” she said.
With her there to help me through my divorce, I suddenly looked at June as if she knew all the answers to all the secrets of life, especially to my life.
“Is that supposed to comfort me? Is that supposed to satisfy me with what happened? Am I supposed to be okay with all that’s happened to me by just giving up and not even taking the time to reflect by just saying, it is what it is?” When she didn’t answer me, I responded. “I may as well just say fuck it!”
She looked at me and smiled at what I assumed was my innocence and naiveté.
“Yes,” she said with a laugh. “You could say that. Instead of saying it is what it is, you could exchange that phrase for fuck it.”
I smirked my disbelief.
“Unbelievable,” I said. “Yet, somehow I prefer ‘It is what it is,’ to fuck it. Fuck it sounds more like something a guy would say. It is what it is sounds more what a Monk or a hermit would say when falling from his perch atop a mountain.”
She put her hand on my shoulder to comfort me in the way that a mother would comfort her daughter and in the way my own mother never did for me. I looked at her as if she was the mother I never had.
“I know that you wish things were different, but hoping so and wondering why they’re not doesn’t make it so and doesn’t make anything better for you. Starting with perhaps your expectations of others that may be too high, it’s time that you understood that we have no control over what others do or don’t do. The sooner you learn that, the more peaceful and happier you and your life will be,” she said making me feel that I was in college again and she was lecturing me again.
Yet, something that my mother should have taught me as a teenager, my creative writing professor was teaching me a valuable lesson of life as a 35-year-old woman. Looking back on our conversation seven years later, I’m still grateful for her help.
“Thank you for that,” I said meaning it. “I get it. I do. Now it makes more sense to me why my friends would just abandon me in my time of need,” I said with sarcasm. “It is what it is.”
She frowned at me in the way she did when I didn’t understand something she was trying to teach us in class.
“You are the only one who has any control over your life. Even then, in the way that the government controls you, peer pressure coerces you, and parents, friends, and relatives interfere with what you need to do to soothe your soul, the control you think you have over your life is limited. In many respects your life may not even be in your control. In many respects your life may at times seemingly even be out of control.”
I was stunned by the simplicity, the honesty, and the insightfulness olgun porno of her words. She was a wise woman indeed. At the same time, as if having one of those ‘Duh?’ moments, I felt as if I had been hit over the head with a sledgehammer.
“It is what it is,” I said again. “Seemingly that makes sense to me now. That one simple phrase helps me to understand more about those unrealistic expectations that I put on people.”
Perhaps a bit naïve, I had never heard that expression before and June’s words kept ringing in my ears over and over again.
“It is what it is. It is what it is. It is what it is.”
June was surprised that I had never heard the expression and we had quite a conversation over what it would mean for me if I could accept this very important principle as part of my internal monologue.
“I thought you were a New England Patriot’s fan,” she said.
“I am,” I said.
“Coach Belichick uses that expression all the time in reference to his team and whenever he doesn’t want to give away anything to reporters,” she said.
As soon as she said that, I recalled him saying that.
“A man of few words, I seldom heard him talk,” I said with a laugh.
Going beyond teaching me how to develop characters, write dialogue, and insert imagery, description, and tension, suddenly she made me feel more like her student than she did her friend. With her having an undergraduate degree in English with creative writing and English literature minors from Harvard University and an MFA degree from Emerson College, she suffered through decades more life experience than I had. I was glad for the six word encapsulated lesson. Still, it was a bitter pill to swallow to just chalk it all up to, ‘It is what it is.’
“Just because it is what it is doesn’t mean that you give up on everything and everybody. It means that you must accept the things that you cannot change. It allows you to not only understand why it is what it is but also to be okay with that you cannot control and what people do or don’t do.”
Everything she said made sense. Everything she said helped me cut through the bullshit. Everything she said enabled me to get on with my life without having to rehash things over again in my feeble attempt in trying to understand the lack of caring of others.
“I get it,” I said nodding my head as if she had morphed from my creative writing teacher, to my psychologist, and to my friend. “I must accept things that I cannot change.”
Only her way of teaching, she beat me over the head with what she had to say again.
“Surely, you’ve heard of The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr.”
I couldn’t help but think of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s father looks to the Heavens and pleads, “Serenity now! Serenity now!”
“I have but I have a feeling you’re going to refresh my memory,” I said with a laugh.
She returned my laugh with her patient smile before she recited the prayer.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference,” she said. “That prayer is something so simple and is so meaningful that it can be applied to everyday life no matter the year or the problem.”
She was so smart. I wish I was as smart as she was. Only, for her to be my friend and for her to take time with me, maybe she thought I was smart too. Moreover, it was the way that she said things.
“Yes, I’ve heard that before,” I said.
She gave me that patient smile again that she does when I get ahead of myself and assume things without having any evidence that they’re correct.
“There’s more,” she said.
I gave her my blank stare.
She nodded her head and smiled.
“There’s more to the Serenity Prayer,” she said.
I didn’t know what more she could say to help me to understand myself and other people than what she’s already said. To be honest, I’d rather keep things simple than adding any more verbiage to the mix.
“Oh, I thought that was all of it,” I said.
She held up a finger as if she was a conductor of an orchestra ready to give the musicians their cue.
“Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever and ever in the next. Amen,” she said bowing her head in a moment of silence as if she was praying.
Oddly enough that sounded familiar. It was something I overhead my mother reading aloud in one of her rare instances of sanity and clarity.
“Wow,” I said.
I looked at her with renewed insightfulness.
“I recite that every night before bed and again the first thing in the morning,” she said. “It gives me the peace that I need,” she said.
It was then that I wondered if she had problems with addiction. With her a teenager of the 60’s, it’s possible with her being a writer and now a college Professor outdoor sex that she had experimented with drugs and/or had a problem with alcohol. Stephen King author of Carrie, The Shining, Misery and so many more had a drug and alcohol problem. Ken Kesey author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest had drug problems. Raymond Chandler, O Henry, Tennessee Williams, Dylan Thomas, Dorothy Parker, Edgar Allen Poe, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway all had drinking problems.
She never mentioned a man in her life, maybe something happened with that. She could have been lesbian for all that I knew. Even though I deemed her a friend, I didn’t know much about her personal background with her being my college professor. With my admission records at her fingertips, she assuredly knew more about me than I knew about her.
With my mother and my four brothers all dependent on drugs and alcohol one time or another and in and out of AA, I was too familiar with The Serenity Prayer. My mother and brothers all had playing cards with that prayer written on the back. Having already lived through a whore of a drugged out, passed out mother and four out of control, incestuously, sexually perverted, drunken brothers, I learned early in life to stay away from alcohol and/or drugs. I learned early in life that I may have that gene that makes me more susceptible to being addicted to alcohol and/or drugs.
As a teenager in the 80’s with the Heyday of the orgy like sex of Studio 54 and the illegal drug culture of Miami Vice, everyone around me drank heavily and/or took drugs. Getting drunk and/or high was the cool thing to do back then. With me always being out of step with others and always doing my own thing and with my life already so out of control, I was never tempted by alcohol and drugs. I had more important things to do in bettering my life than in trying to destroy my life any more than it was.
An easy thing for me to do when everyone else around me was so out of control with addictions, I understood early how much worse my situation would be if I added a numbing agent to the mix. Promising myself to never be emotionally, sexually, and physically abused again by anyone, I needed to stay alert because of the abusers living inside my home and outside in the neighborhood. To this day, I’m hyper vigilant of abusers; that’s the way that I must forever live when I’m an abuse survivor and diagnosed with PTSD. Unfortunately, sadly, and tragically, it’s prophetic how the man that I fell in love with and married physically abused me too. I must have a sign on my forehead that reads, “Abuse me.”
Not wanting to ask her too many questions and pry too much in her personal life, I asked June how to accept ‘It is what it is’ in my daily life and how to reconcile with The Serenity Prayer in my everyday life too.
“So, how do I go about applying ‘It is what it is’ and how to I put the Serenity prayer in practice in my life?”
As if she suddenly turned into a pastor, she had this look of peaceful piety on her face.
“Practice,” is all she said. “Every day is a new day. Every day is a new challenge. One step at a time is the best strategy so that you don’t overwhelm yourself and lose your way. You must always stay on your chosen path and never wander. Stay focused and stay the course.”
Suddenly I felt as if I was a captain of a ship during a storm. I watched her talking to me as if she was talking to someone else, actually as if she was talking to herself. I could see her words reinforcing her more than they did me. Yet, what she said not only made sense but also made an early impression in me. Perhaps it was more the messenger than the message but because I liked and trusted her as a teacher, an advisor, and a friend, I took what she said more to heart than if someone handed me a card with that message written on the back.
She forced me to think about the situations in my life that were applicable to the ‘It is what it is’ phrase and The Serenity poem. The more I thought about them, now having more of a foundation of self-help, the clearer my pitiful issues became. If I accepted the phrase, ‘It is what it is,’ at a gut level, gunshot, knee jerk phrase and followed the advice of The Serenity poem, my life would surely improve, but there was a very large stumbling block in my pathway of acceptance.
Only, it wasn’t as simple as that for me. With all that I’ve already suffered, that stumbling block was having to feel the disappointment, the pain, the anger, the rage, and the sadness that accompanies some of the problems that I’ve had with abusive people in my life. What should have been my safety net when turning to relatives and friends for help and understanding, conversely, having to deal with relatives and friends made me feel even worse.
With all the emotional, sexual, and physical abuse that’s happened to me in my life, I’m much different than a person dependent on alcohol and drugs. Drunks and druggies may not have to deal with the bad, never ending memories of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse. Their way public agent porno to forget and deal with things, drunks and druggies are in the here and now.
Yet, I understand what may have caused them to drink and/or take drugs may have been due to some of the horrific things that happened early in their lives that I’ve had to suffer through and endure to survive. What happened in my life may have happened in their lives too. Seemingly we have the self-destructive similarity. Yet, we all have different coping mechanism that we employ to get through our days. With some taking drugs and others drinking, I write stories. Writing my stories is my therapy.
In that regard, I’m lucky not to have a drinking and/or drug problem. In that regard, I’m lucky not to have taken my own life and/or become an abuser myself. In that regard, head and shoulders above some of the rest of humanity that wallows in the gutter, I was already on my way to recovery. I just needed a break. I just needed a leg up the ladder. I just needed a guiding hand and an Angel on my shoulder to help me along my path and along my way. Professor June was my Angel.
I’m the type of individual who gives everything they have to relationships, and I’ve been told many times what a great friend I am. The standard regarding friendship has a really high bar for me, so I’m often a much better friend than others are friends to me. An example of the “It is what it is” concept is that I often get upset when I make most of the contacts to friends and show concern for them, yet they don’t reciprocate by contacting me and showing concern for me. Typically, our conversations are all about them, about how they feel, and what they’re doing. With me asking them all the questions, they don’t ask me any. Seemingly we all have friends like that but I had more than my share of selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed people who I thought were my friends.
When they didn’t reciprocate my friendship, I felt rejected. Even when I was in a destitute situation after my divorce and others knew my plight, some of my closest friends did not extend offers of help. I wasn’t looking so much for money as I was looking for moral support and friendship. With me thinking of them as a friend, I was crushed by their bad and inappropriate behavior.
The ‘It is what it is’ scenario in my case was that I wasn’t even on their radar. They didn’t even care enough about me to want to help me. Now that I was divorced and eligible, they were more afraid that I’d steal their boyfriends and/or husbands. I wasn’t interested in their boyfriends and husbands and I’d never knowingly break up anyone’s marriage or relationship. If they were anything, they were happy that I was leaving Massachusetts to live in Pennsylvania with my mother. The bottom line is that they were not there for me when I needed them, even though I’ve been a good friend to them every time they’ve needed me.
I’ve been told many times by others that no matter what’s going on in my life that I seem to be able to handle the situation. Apparently I’ve got game, a good head on my shoulders, and a strong back to shoulder the pain. When I finally confronted my friends and asked them why they didn’t call me, they all shrugged their excuses. They all said the same things as if rehearsed for this day when I confronted them.
“We thought you could handle things. We thought you were okay. In the way you’re always so confident, so witty, and so funny, we didn’t think you were hurting. We thought you were glad to see your husband go. Besides, we didn’t know what to say or what to do to help you.”
I looked at them as if I was looking at someone who wasn’t from this neighborhood, from this country, and/or even from this planet. I looked at them as if they were speaking in a foreign language and didn’t have a clue as to what I was saying. Stingy with their friendship when I had been generous with mine, they looked at me as if they were in the right, when they were all so wrong.
“So, instead of saying anything, because you didn’t know what to say to me, you said nothing. Instead of doing something, anything to help me, because you didn’t know what to do to help me, you did nothing,” I said.
With them suddenly going mute and looking uncomfortable as if they were the injured party, I stared at them before I walked away from them. For them not to offer their help and their friendship, they were all clueless. Maybe they’ll understand when the shoe is on the other foot and they divorce their husbands or break up with their boyfriends. Maybe they’ll understand when there’s no one there for them in the way they weren’t there for me. With me not telling them half the things that happened to me, they had no idea what the Hell I’ve been through.
With my friends’ prevailing attitude about my pre-divorce problems and post-divorce problems, their excuse was that I could handle whatever came my way. Now knowing that their insensitive attitudes made me want to handle it all without their help, I didn’t need them. The hurt and disappointment that I felt was extremely strong and long lasting, yet when I apply the “It is what it is” to this situation, I look at it honestly and accepted the truth as it is. I felt better removing my expectations from them. Ending our friendship, they weren’t there for me when I needed them and I wouldn’t be there for them when they needed me.
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